Review: Ten Little Herrings

Ten Little Herrings by L. C. Tyler is the second book in a series of homage-spoof-parody to the classic mystery starring crime-writer Ethelred Tressider and his literary agent Elsie Thirkettle. I had the first book, The Herring Seller’s Apprentice out from the library a while ago but didn’t get around to reading it. On my last library visit I was really in the mood for cosy and lighthearted crime but found only the second instalment. Oh well, I didn’t want to wait and just started reading this one. And I’m glad I did because it was lots of fun!

Ten Little Herrings takes on the classic of crime fiction, the country house murder. The country house in question is a hotel in France and just why and how Ethelred and Elsie come to be there, I’ll let you find out for yourselves.

Apart from Elsie and Ethelred, most other guests are part of a convention of stamp collectors. They are a much more deadly bunch then you’d first assume (or possibly not, if you’ve read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) and it doesn’t take long before they start murdering each other. While Ethelred ponders, Elsie pounces, and the result is just hilarious. What I really enjoyed was the alternating point of view, Ethelred provides a bit of background information and Elsie does most of the chasing.  The sleuthing is noticeably done by amateurs, but always with perfect grammar!

I tend to side automatically with characters (and people) who love chocolate and Elsie was no exception. This gets her into all sorts of trouble but I thought she had a perfectly good reason 😉 Also, gotta love her publishing ethics, even if I do feel a bit sorry for Ethelred:

The Elsie Thirkettle Agency quickly attracted a number of promising young authors of high literary merit, but I managed to dump most of them.  It’s a question of quality, not quantity, you see.  The agricultural revolution was all about getting two crops a year out of a field that previously gave you one.  It’s much the same with books.  The royalties on a book that has taken five years to produce are usually much the same as on one written in six months.  I can double-, sometimes treble-, crop my authors.

If the weather in your part of the world is anything like it is here at the moment – cold, wet, very windy- then put the kettle on and curl up with Elsie and Ethelred!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Review: Frenchman’s Creek

Frenchman’s Creek is the third of Daphne DuMaurier’s books I’ve read and the second one I’ve read alongside Jo of Bibliojunkie. She’s my DuMaurier reading buddy! 🙂

About the novel, our heroine is Lady Dona St. Columb who can’t take polite society life in London any longer and flees with her children to her husband’s estate in Cornwall. There she runs into a French pirate with whom she embarks on all kinds of adventures.

I have to admit I both dreaded and looked forward to reading this one. The mere mention of a dashing French pirate made me giggle, and the romance sounded very Gone with the Wind to me (I know everyone loves it, but I’m rather allergic to grand dramatic romances), but surprisingly DuMaurier kept me reading and I even enjoyed the story.

The pirate and Dona’s romance was not for me but if you like romances you’ll love this one. Can’t remember the pirate’s hair color but he’s a typical case of tall, dark and handsome. Also, he’s educated and well-mannered. What interested me and made me keep reading was Dona’s desire for life, adventure and freedom. Women have been and are restrained by their roles of mothers and wives and Dona trying to shed the constraints put on her was the highlight of this novel for me. But of course both women and men are to some degree un-free. Despite the realities of the pirate’s life, it must have been amazing to take to the sea with a sense of free.

DuMaurier is really at her best when she describes Cornwall, her writing is so visual it was easy to imagine the Frenchman and Dona there chasing freedom.

So this novel is quite fantastic if you enjoy romances and swashbuckling fun, but even if you tend to avoid books like that, make an exception for Frenchman’s Creek.

My next DuMaurier read will be Cousin Rachel which I’m very much looking forward to. DuMaurier writing a mystery has to be amazing!

Other thoughts:

Bibliojunkie

Review: The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge

“The bodies were found early in the afternoon of New Year’s Day. “

The bodies are discovered in a forest in France, adults and children in pyjamas are laid out in a semi-circle. This is not a murder scene but the mass-suicide of members of a sect only known as the Faith. This ‘departure’ calls commissaire André Schweigen and judge Dominique Carpentier to the scene, and they have seen this kind of thing before in Switzerland. Schweigen is explosive, angry and in love; the judge values rationality above all else. But she is “la chasseuse de sectes”, and investigating the Faith leads her on a journey that will disturb her equilibrium.

The problem with the Faith is that its members are all part of the elite, scientific and artistic. They are all successful, intelligent and no-one would have expected them to be members of a sect, let alone a suicide cult. In the judge’s investigation everything leads back to the composer, Friedrich Grosz.

The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge is a mystery and even a thriller, but it is often metaphysical and slow-paced. Duncker focuses on philosophical questions, and the relationship between the composer and his judge, between passio et ratio is the core of this book. This novel is by no means boring, in fact it is rather tightly plotted, however you have to be interested in Duncker’s forays into the mystic, apocalyptic (the millennium looms large here) and occult.

This novel requires you to suspend your disbelief at times, but what you get in return is a contemplation on the genre, an intellectual game and the fine arts. It also reads best curled up with strong coffee and dark chocolate.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Update

Sorry, I didn’t mean to completely disappear for so long! I’m a bit stressed with uni, as usual, and somehow freeze up everytime I try to write about books for fun. So this will be a very short post with more images than text, just to let you know I’m still around (and will hopefully manage to comment on your posts soon, I’m still lurking though 😉 ):

I just finished reading:

Isn’t the cover simply gorgeous? Held it just so that everyone could take a look at it while I was reading on my commute 🙂 This was my third Duncker read and had that wonderful creepy and unsettling atmosphere I’ve come to expect from her. Also features the usual emphasis on France and high culture. This time around Duncker writes about a (suicide) sect, a judge who has made it her calling to save people from their influence, and a composer who may or may not be seduce the judge to join the darker side.

I am currently reading:

This is O’Flynn’s second novel and as I absolutely adored What Was Lost, I had to give this one a try. There is nothing I don’t like about it so far, it’s just not as fantastic as the first book (which honestly is more or less impossible to beat). Still, O’Flynn’s look at English society is compelling. This one is about local news presenter Frank, bad jokes and Birmingham’s attitude towards architecture. I have to say O’Flynn is brilliant about creating characters, even the minor ones come completely to life.

In my mailbox:

I love representatons of cities in literature and when Ana sang the praises for Kraken I decided I had to give Miéville a try. Typically the bookshop had never heard of him nor anything by him (which is what usually happens when I decide to support the local stores) but every copy in the library was checked out. Thankfully there are lots of great people who sell cheap secondhand copies to Germany. I have already decided to lock myself in this weekend and spend some quality time with this book 🙂

Crime fiction of course, but for once not a British cosy! I loved every adjective in the raving reviews and admittedly, the title. Sarcasm, great characterization and social commentary, here I come. Plus, Eva recommended it!

Hope you’re all doing well! What’s everyone reading?

Mini Reviews- Crime Time

Apologies for my absence (again!). I should really consider moving to a place where the weather doesn’t spontaneously go from 16°C to 30°C and give me the worst migraines as a result. It seems doubtful that I’ll ever get caught up on my reviews, but I want to at least try to make a dent in the list, so here’s another mini reviews post. Hope you’re all avid crime readers! (but since the argument can be made that all reading is clue-hunting and interpretation is sleuthing, every bookworm is a detective 😉 ).

 

I know, you’ve probably read too many thoughts on this one already, so I’ll make it short. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is (insert your favorite superlative) and I can’t recommend it enough. Apart from being a suspenseful account of a true crime, it is  a study of the 19th century and the beginnings of the detective branch in England. If you ever wanted to know how quickly people then could expect to arrive by coach or train, how news were dispersed, what attitudes were prevalent towards the police and especially the new detectives, then this should be your read. Also, if you want to know more about how the new detectives were regarded and how they shaped literature, look at The Moonstone and other detective stories of that age. I found the reconstruction of 19th century England and the Road Hill Murder very well-done and hats off to Summerscale for combining serious research (the bibliography made me drool) and scholarship with great storytelling!

Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Amy Reads

Bibliojunkie

Farm Lane Books

A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third Flavia book and Bradley has yet to disappoint. Apart from having another great title, this instalment is at least as great as the ones before. Flavia is her usual charming self, gypsy lore abounds, we get to know more about chemistry and I especially loved Flavia’s relationships with her sisters and the inspector. Also, gotta love Flavia’s lively commentary :

Alone at last! Whenever I’m with other people, part of me shrinks a little. Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company.

I really should reread it!

Other thoughts:

Nonsuch Books

The Case of the Missing Servant is a cosy crime set in India (you see, I am broadening my horizon etc). Vish Puri, most private investigator, is something of an Indian Poirot, if you like these sort of comparisons. He is small, round and his little gray cells are definitely in working order. Usually he screens prospective marriage partners for the families but then he is asked by a lawyer to look into the death of his maidservant, of whose murder he is accused. This book is not only a cosy mystery, it is also very funny and provides us with a great look at present-day India without falling into the trap of presenting the country as the exotic other. I’ve also read that India Today finds Hall’s look at India convincing (which had me a bit worried as at one point, a character in the book can’t phone the police since their line isn’t working likely due to not having paid their bill! You can’t let Germans read that without a warning! 😉 ). Needless to say, I’ll be reading the sequel soon.

Other thoughts:

Bibliojunkie

Nishita’s Rants and Raves

As always, let me know if you’ve reviewed these books, and I’ll add a link!

Review: The Red House Mystery

Like most people, I know A. A. Milne as the author of the Pooh books (though admittedly I haven’t read any of them) but to my delight I learned that Milne, a fan of the classic detective story, had written one himself. The Red House Mystery is sadly the only mystery he wrote, but it is such a delight! If you are in the mood for  a classic mystery which also gently mocks that genre or just fancy a cosy, this should be your next read.

Anthony Gillingham, our amateur sleuth (for let’s face it, the best sleuths are amateurs) stumbles into the middle of a country house murder and a locked-room murder no less. Arriving at the red house to visit his friend Bill Beverley, Tony finds that the host Mark Ablett has disappeared and his no-good brother Robert from Australia has been shot in the study, it’s a rum business as Bill would say. So Tony chooses a new profession and Bill agrees to play Watson to his Sherlock Holmes.

Bill by the way is just the sidekick anyone could wish for and with his “I say” and “what-ho” reminded me a lot of Bertie Wooster. Like Wodehouse’s world, the one Milne conjures here is one of eternal English summer, teas and tennis. It’s the idealistic pre-WWI England that never really existed but is always mourned, especially in the classic British mysteries. I recommend joining the characters with a cup of tea and a scone in this ideal world (where some people just happen to be murdered 😉 ). Still, it’s all very cosy and fun and the characters as well as the narrator keep commenting on genre conventions and references abound.  The solution isn’t too much of a surprise, but otherwise there’s really not much Milne doesn’t provide. There’s a marvelous library, a secret passage, a Holmes and Watson pair of sleuths, a locked room murder and the police are baffled.

I can’t believe though that Milne would end the book with his sleuth saying that he was just getting into the swing of it and then not follow it up with a sequel! But there you go, you have been warned to make the most of this little gem!

As this mystery is a classic and was published in 1922, this counts for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.

Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Novel Insights

Geranium Cat’s Bookshelf

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Review: Hallucinating Foucault

Hallucinating Foucault by Patricia Duncker is narrated by an unnamed protagonist who is a Cambridge postgrad student, writing his thesis on the French writer Paul Michel. He starts a relationship with a girl he meets in the library, only referred to as the Germanist. Uncovering the letters Michel wrote to the French theorist Michel Foucault, the narrator learns of Michel’s feverish admiration for Foucault and, urged by the Germanist, goes to France to see Paul Michel. He finds him in an insane asylum and is drawn into a love triangle of passion, madness and intimacy.

Duncker’s first novel reads like a dark and twisty thriller, but it is most of all a meditation on the intimate and private relationship between reader and writer. There is the narrator’s love and obsession with Paul Michel, and Michel’s love for Foucault (whom he addresses as reader in his letters), and when the narrator meets Michel, that love is moved from the level of the text to that of the reality of the novel.

While Duncker has obviously written this novel to be accessible for a general audience, being familiar with the works of Michel Foucault made it even more interesting. I don’t write this to discourage you from reading this book, but rather to encourage you to read some Foucault (particularly Madness and Civilization and The History of Sexuality). The novel also has that academic touch and describes the obsessive atmosphere of university libraries that many of you might recognize and appreciate, I know I did. The narrator wonderfully comments on this:

University libraries are like madhouses, full of people pursuing wraiths, hunches, obsessions

Which brings us to the theme of madness which is one focus of Hallucinating Foucault. My particular interest is the label of madness as a means of discrediting and removing non-normative behavior and inclinations, and this is partly addressed with the removal of the anarchist and homosexual Paul Michel. However, Duncker looks more closely at the link between love and madness and delusions and perceptions of reality. She also appears to have done a lot of research about the French psychiatric system, which is as fascinating as the one in England.

Paul Michel is only a character in this novel, he is not a real writer, unlike Michel Foucault. But Paul Michel exists outside this text as Paul-Michel, Foucault’s complete name. See what fun you can have with this novel? There are so many layers of meaning and a lot of different approaches to this novel, but despite this, it remains a novel that is fast-paced and accessible.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Review: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

In Bad Münstereifel, a small town in  Germany, everyone knows everyone and their business. But then Katharina Linden disappears and suddenly the townspeople have to face the fact that these things happen even in their midst and Bad Münstereifel turns into one more place where parents are afraid to let their children roam outside.

Our young narrator is Pia, known as the girl whose grandmother exploded. Due to her grandmother’s unfortunate accident with an Adventskranz (advent wreath), Pia becomes a social outcast and has to make do with the friendship of StinkStefan (possibly the only one in school more unpopular than she is) and Herr Schiller. Herr Schiller is a genial older man who welcomes both children into his home and tells them local folk tales (most of which are apparently real stories of the area). Pia’s life is also unsettled by her parent’s marital problems, as her English expat mother wants to move the family to England.

At the center of the story is thus the tragic but sadly not uncommon phenomenon of young girls disappearing. But Grant embellishes her story by adding fairy tale and horror elements in the tradition of the Grimms as well as local folklore. The atmosphere she invokes is really fantastic, especially as we look at things from the perspective of a ten-year old girl. Bad Münstereifel is a small town with cobbled streets and timbered houses, close to the Eifel forest and is exactly what I always pictured when reading Grimm’s fairy tales (I grew up near the Eifel and we often went there to explore, though I think it was stressful for our parents, it is  very easy to get lost). Here is a picture of Bad Münstereifel and the surrounding forest:

 photo credit

I found The Vanishing of Katharina Linden to be an engrossing read. I didn’t mean to read through it in one sitting but Pia and her story captivated me. She is a very likeable character and narrator and I read that many people were confused about the target audience. I didn’t really think about that at all when I picked it up, but it seems to be suited for adults as well as young adults. Even though Pia is about ten years old in the story, she looks back from the age of about 17. I find her ‘memories’, that is the young Pia’s perspective well-represented though. I read the fairly tale elements as Pia’s way to negotiate her ten-year old’s world view with the sudden intrusion of adult violence in her life.

Looking back, I’m happy that this book wasn’t marketed aggressively as a YA book with fantasy and horror elements. It is very unlikely I would have read it. But I stumbled over this in the store and the cover isn’t very YA book-like (not my edition at least) and was shelved simply under English novels. Categories are often helpful guidelines but sometimes they scare me off books I might have enjoyed under any other label (there is something to say for rummage boxes in used books stores).

Grant lived in the town herself for some years and I can’t tell you how great it is to read a writer who uses German words and actually does so correctly! (Because butchering a foreign language when you have countless proofreaders and editors does not make you an intellectual!) Grant’s style is fantastic, the novel captivates you in the way that great stories do, but not in the breathless ways of thrillers. There are enough quiet moments that allow you to ponder the effects of the disappearances on the  town of Bad Münstereifel and how children transform their reality to accommodate these disturbing events.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Review: Singled Out

Virginia Nicholson’s Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men after the First World War chronicles the lives of a whole generation of women, most of whom lost any prospect of marriage when three-quarters of a million soldiers died in the war. Nicholson looks at these 2 million surplus women and what they made of their lives.

The new demography irrevocably changed British society and any of the usual conventions of women’s roles had to change with it. The spinster of the 19th century was a well-known figure of ridicule but the new spinsters of post-WWI had, if nothing else, numbers on their side. Old roles of women as wives and mothers could only be realized for one out of ten women, and so the new women had to find and make new places in society, starting with providing for themselves. During the war, women naturally stepped up to take up the jobs men had to leave behind to fight in France. But afterwards, when only a very reduced number of men returned to demand their jobs back, they found that women enjoyed the independence that went with being financially independent and were much fitter than many of the wounded men who returned. The working place was a major field of contest, women were only supposed to work until they married, however, the new ‘superfluous’ women would likely never marry and relied on these jobs. Also, while married women were expected to step down, they did not necessarily like relinquishing their independence either. And if this drastic change in British society was not problematic enough, those men who returned from the war were often bitter to find that the country they had fought for wanted nothing more than forget the war and move on. They returned, often wounded or shell-shocked, to find seemingly cheerful and more able young women doing their work. This of course led to much resentment and feelings of wounded masculinity, and women were condemned for stealing the returning soldiers’  jobs.

Post-WWI society was thus far from welcoming to the working spinster, marriage having been the be-all and end-all with regard to providing for women, no real alternative existed and the sheer force of patriarchal structures these women had to fight against must have been more than daunting. Often they worked as lowly paid typists, just managing to live on their salary, but with no possibility of providing for their retirement. They could do a bit better if they lived together with others of their kind, but young women living together and not in the family home, was frowned upon. With no securities or provisions for them from the state, Florence White took it upon herself to better the lives of single women and campaigned, successfully, for a spinster pension.

Other professions available were that of being a shop girl, of secretarial work, nursing or teaching, which was considered unsexy and reduced chances of marriage even more. But while they often labored long hours for unfair pay, this new age also provided chances for some women they would otherwise never have had or thought of. Beatrice Gordon Holmes for example was a pioneer woman in the typically male field of finance and carved an extremely successful career for herself in stock broking. Or Victoria Drummond who realized her dream of becoming a marine engineer. Or the archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thomas. These are the women who defied conventions and did so with spectacular success. Other women struck to more typical professions, but were successful in their own right. Gertrude Maclean and Emily Faulder for example set up the agency of Universal Aunts, which provided the much-sought after service of the professional aunt.

Successful or not, the key was to keep busy. Many of these women would never enjoy sex or have children, and they could be desperately lonely at times. But unlike 19th century spinsters, there were a lot of them now and they went on to set up alliances and groups, and went on holidays together. Not all of them lived in celibacy of course, they had affairs or lesbian relationships. The 20s and 30s were in many ways times of liberation, although many women were still given the advice to repress their sexual urges when they turned to women’s magazines and such for help.

Nicholson covers the many paths women chose and follows the lives of a couple of them in great detail, conjuring vibrant, if often difficult lives. These case histories are the strongest part of this work, and made these women very real to me, they ceased to be simply numbers and I was very happy whenever one of them turned up again in a different chapter, it was like meeting an old friend. And there was so much to discover, the pain of lost loves, or the impossibility of love in marriage, fighting to change a society that was more than unprepared for their existence, but in between that, the excitement of new ways to live their lives. These women’s lives consisted of so much disappointment and fighting against old-fashioned and impossible conventions, but what they achieved was often groundbreaking and forever changed society. Many of them lead difficult and disappointed lives, but for every couple of them, there was a woman who thrived, and that is what I took with me when I closed this book. Winifred Holtby said it best:

I was born to be a spinster, and by God, I’m going to spin

 

Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Review: One Good Turn

One Good Turn is the second book in the Jackson Brodie series, the first being Case Histories which I reviewed here.

In the follow-up, we find Jackson Brodie in Edinburgh at the festival, which he is attending for the sake of his actress girlfriend Julia (remember her from Case Histories?). While Julia is acting in the worst kind of fringe theatre, Jackson somewhat aimlessly explores the town. He ponders Julia’s emotional distance, and the curse of being well-off but being without a purpose. But things happen and soon Jackson is witness to a car accident with a violent thug and finds the body of a young woman which then promptly disappears again. There’s also meek Martin Canning, writer of light old-fashioned mysteries, who loses his wallet and novel and is falsely identified as a murder victim; and Gloria Hatter, hopefully soon-to-be widow of a property developer (of crappy houses); and a mysterious company called Favours; a crazy Russian girl; and Louise Monroe, a police officer, trying to make sense of the confusing going-ons and her errant son Archie.

As in Case Histories, Atkinson creates a pastiche of these seemingly unrelated stories, hopping from perspective to perspective with each chapter. But don’t worry, every character has a strong voice and is memorable enough to make it no problem at all to reconnect with them. The great thing with this style is that with every chapter,  a piece of the puzzle fell into place, which is probably why I raced through this book, Atkinson’s plotting is only surpassed by her writing. Her writing is an absolute joy; it’s lively but descriptive and despite her demonstrations of the meanness and misery of the human condition, her sarcastic commentary made me laugh out loud every other page.

Where Case Histories was heart-wrenching in its depiction of grief and loss, and felt more melancholy in tone, One Good Turn is more of a fun romp. Or it will be for you, if you can appreciate the author’s caustic humour. The main characters are scarily real but when they interact, the housewife and the crazy Russian girl, there are lots of moments for more light fun. I quite admire how Atkinson can expose human behaviour so completely but still balance this with a fun puzzle and moments of slapstick like attitude. Fun moments also come from Martin being a crime writer and Atkinson poking fun at writers, publishers and the whole gang.

I love Atkinson for bringing her considerable writing talent to the supposedly unworthy genre of crime fiction, for using a German word and spelling it correctly, for characters who apologize for using split infinitives, for exploring the concept of masculinity in Jackson and especially Martin, and for making all of this into one amazing read!

Favorite passages:

On the road rage:

“Even Martin had wondered at first if it was another show- a faux-imprompto piece intended either to shock or to reveal our immunity to being shocked because we lived in a global media community where we had become passive voyeurs of violence (and so on).”

“What must it have felt like to have pinned your colours to the standard of a just war, to have experienced so many noble feelings (yes, a lot of propaganda, but the kernel of it was true), to have been released from the burden of individualism?”

“Gloria often had the impression that her life was a series of rooms she walked into that everyone else had just left.”

“Gloria felt suspicious of people who had no time for sugar, it was a personality flaw, like preferring weak tea. Tea and sugar were a test of character.”

“Sometimes Gloria wondered where she had been when feminism occurred in the kitchen making interesting packed lunches, presumably.”

“Martin couldn’t imagine a world where there was no time to read.”

“Tarvit slumped in his chair as if languor and bad posture were a mark of masculinity”.

 

Other thoughts:

Shelf Love

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!